The internal and external dimensions of ecological autonomy
Chackal, Anthony Elias
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The prevailing way to think about individual autonomy has been shaped by two central enlightenment-era concepts: the individual conceived as the atomistic self and autonomy required for moral agency and responsibility. However, these concepts are problematic because they largely ignore externalities in social contexts in that obstruct autonomy. Replacing atomistic individualism and autonomy with ecological counterparts reveals a spectrum of internal and external dimensions. Autonomy must include action and requires a new set of competency and authenticity conditions. Positing these reveals a wider range of autonomy obstructions. To understand their scope, the epistemic, political, and moral aspects of autonomy are underscored. Constraints obstruct thinking and action, competency and authenticity, and arise internally and externally. While community can obstruct individual autonomy, it also generates and sustains it. To understand how, community must be co-defined with place. I argue that individuals and autonomy are ecological. I define place and community as mutually constitutive companion concepts with alternate emphases. Place emphasizes physical and social, natural and artificial environments, but includes people and social practices, while community emphasizes social practices, knowledge, and values, but includes environments. I argue that place and community generate environmental resources necessary for ecological individualism and autonomy. The concept of community autonomy has gained traction in various areas, including Food Justice, Communitarianism, and Collective Epistemology. I review versions of community and community autonomy from these areas. While each has merit, they lack a sufficient epistemological account of how individual beliefs are aggregated into collective beliefs and decisions. Therefore, only notions of external community autonomy exist. On my view, community autonomy consists internally in an ethos and institutional structure specifying procedural relations, seen primarily in the model of aggregating individual judgments into collective ones. It exists externally in the relationships it has to other communities. Individual autonomy can be a model for community autonomy, but competency and authenticity conditions are needed.